Zukerman does it again

May 29, 2006 at 05:40 AM · Mr. Diplomacy strikes again...

His point makes me wonder though: how many orchestral string players REALLY join orchestras as a last resort when their solo career doesn't work out?


from Ottawa Citizen:

Zukerman looks forward to another decade

A few months ago, the orchestra director was complaining of a few 'rotten apples' but in a recent interview, he said when the ensemble works well, 'It's such a joy.'

Steven Mazey, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Saturday, May 27, 2006

National Arts Centre Orchestra director Pinchas Zukerman, who a few months ago complained about some "rotten apples" in the orchestra, now says he could see himself at the NAC for another 10 years, "if it all works well and things continue the way I think it should, musically.

"I'm so satisfied musically, I can't tell you. When this orchestra plays well, it's such a joy," said Mr. Zukerman, who is in contract negotiations.

He was talking to CBC Radio host Eric Friesen in an interview last week on Studio Sparks, the national classical music program that is produced in Ottawa. It was Mr. Zukerman's first interview since he returned May 11 from his five-month break from the NAC.

In December, Mr. Zukerman walked away for an unpaid sabbatical with no explanation, and left orchestra management scrambling to find replacement conductors.

Mr. Zukerman missed three concert programs and was to be away until the end of June. He returned early, in what some musicians say was likely a public relations move after some of the criticism that greeted the departure.

His contract expires next year, and NAC management has said it's hopeful Mr. Zukerman will renew, even though orchestra musicians have become sharply divided over the maestro.

Some have complained he has taken an increasingly bullying approach to getting his way. The NAC has hired two facilitators, who have begun working with both sides to improve the relationship.

When Mr. Friesen suggested Mr. Zukerman's departure was "unusual," Mr. Zukerman replied that his friend, Zubin Mehta, once took a year off as director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Mr. Zukerman didn't mention that Mr. Mehta's year-long sabbatical was planned long in advance.

Though he was vague on details, Mr. Zukerman referred to some unhappiness with the process for hiring new members of the orchestra and disagreements he has had with musicians who work with him in auditions. Musicians have a vote, partly to ensure they feel a new player will be a good fit for the ensemble, and that a music director isn't simply hiring friends or former students who might not blend well with the group.

One musician filed a grievance last season about what he said was a harassing and insulting telephone call he received from Mr. Zukerman after the musician (and most other members of the committee) didn't vote in favour of a cellist that Mr. Zukerman and his wife, principal cellist Amanda Forsyth, wanted to hire. The telephone call came before there was to be a final vote.

Musicians cite that incident, and others, to rebut recently retired NAC chairman David Leighton, who suggested in the Citizen recently that much of the controversy around Mr. Zukerman will be resolved with the retirement next month of founding concertmaster Walter Prystawski, after 37 years at the NAC.

When Mr. Prystawski was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2000, Mr. Zukerman told the Citizen, "Walter has the total respect of the orchestra. He's been incredibly good for Ottawa and for music in Canada."

But Mr. Zukerman and Mr. Prystawski have not been close for a few years. Mr. Prystawski says the coolness seemed to start after he and other members of a committee decided a few seasons ago that an interim associate concertmaster that Mr. Zukerman favoured, though a fine violinist, wasn't the right fit for the NACO.

Mr. Leighton offered no direct criticism of Mr. Zukerman or Mr. Prystawski, but told the Citizen he believes the strained relationship between the two men was at the root of the problem that resulted in Mr. Zukerman's disappearance.

However, before his departure, Mr. Zukerman had ensured that he and Mr. Prystawski would not share the stage this season. Mr. Zukerman had arranged to work with potential concertmaster candidates for all of the concerts he was to conduct this season.

"It's a mistake to single out any individual. It was a poor characterization of the situation and unfair to Mr. Prystawski," said former NACO bassoonist Michael Namer, secretary of the Musicians Association of Ottawa-Gatineau.

"If the quote is accurate, it's an unfortunate turn of phrase, because in any workplace or family where there may be problems, it takes more than one individual to create tensions."

Asked by Mr. Friesen what he hoped to achieve with facilitation, Mr. Zukerman started talking instead about his dream of building a new concert hall for the orchestra on Elgin Street.

Though some media organizations treated the comments as if the NAC will be competing for funding with the 925-seat concert hall the Ottawa Chamber Music Society wants to build, NAC spokeswoman Jayne Watson stressed the NAC supports the Chamber Society's project, and that Mr. Zukerman was talking of a long-term dream.

"It's very, very preliminary and was part of a session we had with our management group to discuss the NAC in 25 years' time," Ms. Watson said.

NAC president Peter Herrndorf has said the NAC would regularly rent the chamber society's hall for performances that are better suited to a smaller venue than the NAC's 2,000-seat Southam Hall.

In a comment not likely to go over well with musicians, Mr. Zukerman suggested too many players see their work merely as a way to earn a living.

Mr. Zukerman told Mr. Friesen orchestral musicians "do it as a last resort most of the time," after failing to make it as star soloists, "so it's a job. But its not a job, it shouldn't be ... it should be something you feel that you are able to do because you've been given a talent, an ability to do something that's unique."

While Mr. Zukerman's taxpayer-financed NAC salary is estimated by sources to be in the $1 million range, most NACO players start in the $70,000 range. As anyone who has travelled with the orchestra can attest, musicians work hard at keeping up their playing under gruelling schedules, and many work long hours on tour and at home coaching student musicians.

Mr. Zukerman told Mr. Friesen he wasn't much concerned about criticism.

"I look for popular vote when I perform. I want the popular vote in recognition that I did a good performance."

Mr. Zukerman was scheduled to conduct Mr. Prystawski's farewell concerts June 15 and 16, but has backed out of those performances and has been replaced by founding NACO conductor Mario Bernardi.

Mr. Zukerman's next appearance on the podium is scheduled for July 4.

Ms. Forsyth has been away on sick leave since December, and remains off work.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2006

Replies (45)

May 29, 2006 at 06:37 AM · Kind of funny, seeing as a lot of us out here are working hard to try to be orchestral musicians. I guess he can't see that a lot of us really do love our orchestral jobs. He was only talking about a few "rotten apples", but I reserve all judgement on the topic because I do not know the full situation there. It certainly does seem to not be entirely as he says it is and I'm sure it's not entirely as the orchestra says either. In a perfect world- the musical "eutopia"- there would be no discrepencies between the musicians and the conductor and the board.

June 5, 2006 at 03:54 AM · Ms. Forsyth been on sick leave since December? What happened to poor Eugenia? And Tuesday Weld and the ghost of Elvis? I think you can get this on Oprah. Tell him it's Opera. He won't know till it's too late.

June 5, 2006 at 03:59 AM · Some things are better left unsaid.....

June 5, 2006 at 04:12 AM · I'm pissed at Bradgelina too. And why can't Kirstie Alley keep that weight off?

June 5, 2006 at 04:18 AM · Mr. Zukerman told Mr. Friesen orchestral musicians "do it as a last resort most of the time," after failing to make it as star soloists, "so it's a job. But its not a job, it shouldn't be ... it should be something you feel that you are able to do because you've been given a talent, an ability to do something that's unique."

I agree with Pinky on that point, he's a great violinist and says it like it is, my question though is, is Amanda getting paid for this timely sick leave? My other question is a rather prying one, but legitimate one I think, that no one has asked due to political correctness, did she become principal before or after she got involved with him?

June 5, 2006 at 04:29 AM · Amanda did a gig with Pinchas in the US back in March I believe that was quite a high profile gig and has made other appearances away from the NACO during her "sick leave".

June 5, 2006 at 04:38 AM · I just love how people who barely know Mr. Z and his wife readily comment on his professional and marital situation as if they're close friends.

Classical musicians think they're superior in social graces to the regular population, but some of the above discussion combined with a lot of other discussions involving the aformentioned is as sickening and tasteless as discussing Paris Hilton.

My opinion? I think most people are sick with jealously over Zukerman's abilities and love to take every opportunity to undercut him. Same as Paris Hilton...

June 5, 2006 at 04:51 AM · So you're saying he and Paris aren't just dopey celebrities?

June 5, 2006 at 04:47 AM · Thanks Kelsey, I know they did play in Cali a few months ago (Brahms double?). Pieter, I have lots of respect for Zukerman, he's a great musician, I just asked two pretty legitimate questions however; the timetable of his wife's appointment, and whether they are getting paid in full during their leave of absence. What's wrong with asking where your tax dollars are going?

June 5, 2006 at 05:42 AM · "Ms. Forsyth has been away on sick leave since December, and remains off work."

I hope all is well, since she'll be playing Brahms Double Concerto with Zukerman in Hong Kong June 14th.

June 5, 2006 at 06:39 AM · Keith, I wasn't being overly specific. I can appreciate that Mr. Zukerman has a certain reputation for certain things, but people like to spread nasty rumors about his personal life and his professionalism when they haven't ever even been in the same room as the man. I think it's cheap.

June 5, 2006 at 12:26 PM · How dare anyone take an opportunity to "undercut" the amazing Paris Hilton!

What is the world coming to?

June 5, 2006 at 04:17 PM · PZ and Eugenia got divorced many, many years ago.

As far as I understand, Ms. Forsyth was principal in the orchestra before he became the music director (and he was single at that time).

June 5, 2006 at 04:23 PM · "What's wrong with asking where your tax dollars are going?"

Keith, I almost started laughing out loud about the idea of tax dollars going to support an orchestra... then I realized I'm not Canadian and now I can't stop crying.

June 5, 2006 at 10:15 PM · With all due respect to Maestro Pinchas Zukerman, that comment about orchestral musicians was very much uncalled for.

Comments like that are exactly why Ottawa has a problem with Pinchas Zukerman. He has no respect for the people who play under him.

June 5, 2006 at 11:07 PM · I don't agree with you, Zukerman is right to point out if these people made it as soloists they wouldn't be playing there. That's a no brainer. I mean it might have been a little undiplomatic, but it is true.

June 5, 2006 at 11:23 PM · Greetings,

I am not sure it is so black and white. That presupposes a situation in which the ideal is being a soloist and being an orchestral player is a compromise rather than a first choice for many musicians.

Being Ilya is ideal?!!!!!!?



June 6, 2006 at 12:16 AM · With all that rancor in the orchestra, I wonder what happens to the quality of the MUSIC?

June 6, 2006 at 12:58 AM · To be honest, what's said in private conversation is all fair game. However I've seen some pretty inflamatory stuff being said about Zukermann in various capacities, here and elsewhere. It's not that I'm threatened by the "two degrees of separation" as Andrew puts it that exists in this industry, but rather common decency (hilarious comming from me, I know).

From what I've heard, the quality of the NAC has remained consistently high throughout the tumultuous Zukerman issue.

June 6, 2006 at 01:07 AM · Oh my... info travels fast. Sheesh...


June 6, 2006 at 02:21 AM · Hey you guys, forget Paris, Oprah, Bradgelina, and Elvis!

I'm just jacked about the fact that a baseball legend has joined the discussion with such great points!

June 6, 2006 at 02:48 AM · Actually when I started this thread, I wondered: do a lot of string players really join orchestras only as a last resort?

I'd like to re-ask the question, not focusing so much on whether it was appropriate for PZ to say it.

June 6, 2006 at 02:52 AM · I personally love orchestral playing and I would never consider it a "last resort" unless someone hit me over the head with a brick and I had some sudden epiphany that being a soloist is the only possible way I could be content.

June 6, 2006 at 02:56 AM · M. Brucie:

I think this is ultimately a complicated question to answer because the truth is that there are many types of string players who make up orchestras around the world and just as many approaches to the craft and avenues by which people enter these orchestras.

When you consider the fact that the violin repertoire, specifically, is so packed with solo pieces (even our etudes are often works that could appear on unaccompanied recitals or as encores--unlike the wind players whose etudes are often orchestral excerpts!), it is safe to say that we ALL begin our musical journey with the intention of trying to be the best soloist we can be. Don't misunderstand this statement--this is NOT to say we all are trying to be professional concert soloists. That said, there ARE, of course, those who are groomed from the beginning to BE soloists.

I, too, know MANY violinists who always strived for that great orchestral gig--but most of them admit that their violin teachers throughout their developmental years PUSHED the solo repertoire. After all, this is the best way to become the best VIOLINIST one can be.

Ultimately, it is ALL of it--solo, CHAMBER MUSIC, and the orchestral repertoire that contribute to the healthiest of violinists.

I think it IS true that in the major symphonies, there are several violinists who strived for a successful solo career only to realize eventually how impractical such a career can be--and thus chose to play in an orchestra. This is NOT to say that THESE violinists are unhappy! Look at the Concertmaster of Philadelphia. He was a Tchaikovsky Competition WINNER, found himself launched into the solo career he always wanted, only to find himself years later playing concertos with little community orchestras in farm towns (his comment). So, after great thought, he chose to audition for Phily and there he sits at the top. (Naturally, his story is a bit unique.)

I have found in the music world that there are many who have fallen short of their dream, but who make their situation work and embrace it because they love their instrument and music.


June 6, 2006 at 04:10 AM · I think Mr. Wilson (or shall I call you Peter?) hit the nail on the head. You could ask all the members in the major American symphonies and you'd get varied backgrounds and information. Some musicians go for their dream of becoming a soloist and get it. Some thought that they would only play chamber music, only to find that they loved orchestra more. Some, like myself, have dreamed of getting into a top level orchestra. Unfortunately, that means there is a wide range of satisfaction. Some of those players are extremely happy with where they are, content to make wonderful music, and some are bitter about lost careers.

I would like to say one comment about Mr. Zukerman and the NAC Orchestra. I have a good friend who is from Ottawa and knows many of the musicians. It is true that there are ill feelings on both sides. Diplomacy is not, and has not been, the strong point for the orchestra's relations with management/Mr. Zukerman. Regardless of how the musicians have treated Zukerman, what he said was not politically savvy. He has every right to say and thing what he believes but the press and the public have the right to react to it. It would be one thing for Mr. Zukerman to say, "Yes, there have been some ill feelings and resentments, but all is being worked out", yada yada yada. Instead, he chose to attack those musicians, even if it was only a few. He personalized the arguments and in front of the public. Even if the musicians have done the same to him, it's up to someone to be the better man, and that could have been his chance. He instead saw the chance to take another jab at his colleagues. I highly respect the musicians of the NAC and the maestro, but I feel that their public relations skills could be developed and polished a little....

June 6, 2006 at 05:30 AM · Christina, you're being far too subtle. Please tell it like it is. Pinchas Zukerman is dragging the arts into a mudpit with comments like he's made.

Do we as Canadians really need to hear such low-class insults being hurled at our orchestras by foreign conductors? I think not.

Show some respect Mr.Zukerman. Nobody joined the NACO to be your personal punching bag.

June 6, 2006 at 11:10 AM · I don't see why management of NACO should think that an illustrious name like that of Zukermann adds to their band at the price of the musicians putting up with unprofessional behaviour. They should cut their losses (if there are any) and move on to another conductor. Pinky seems to think that he deserves a better orchestra. I think that NACO deserves a conductor that does not insult them.

Pieter writes that "the quality of the NAC has remained consistently high throughout the tumultuous Zukerman issue". It may be that they will play even better in an atmosphere of respect.

June 6, 2006 at 04:15 PM · Hmmm.

Here's what I came away with:

1) If any section violinist in the orchestra simply got up and walked away only to return with more demands, he'd be blacklisted for the rest of his career. Why doesn't this simple professional reality apply to the conductor, the supposed model for musicians to follow? Or should we all follow Zukerman's lead on this? Let's all just walk away from our orchestral jobs and come back next season asking for more stuff.

2) A top cellist from a professional orchestra on sick leave is performing on the international stage WHILE on sick leave. Does that mean that every other cellist who's a section leader now has the right to declare sick leave and get paid for it for not being around while pursuing gigs elsewhere? That's a great career option, getting paid for work that you're not actually doing. I would love to take a lesson from this cellist on how to arrange my sick leave gigging schedule and on how to deal with the legal fallout of working another job while I'm supposedly incapacitated medically.

3) This conductor tells a newspaper that orchestral musicians "do it as a last resort most of the time." I'm sure that not every player in that orchestra thinks that's a compliment on their quality of playing. I'm an orchestra player too, and so I guess I should be saying "I'm a failed soloist". Maybe I can improve my "soloist self esteem" if I go on sick leave and pursue solo gigs like Zukerman's wife did.

4) After all this, the NAC STILL wants him back? How does a guy who says that his musicians are in their jobs as a "last resort" in the papers, quits on the season without giving any notice to anybody, has a wife who's on sick leave who's earning money for doing nothing and is pursuing gigs elsewhere, and is actively trying to get rid of as many dissident voices be THE GUY that the NAC wants? Aren't there a lot of other conductors who respect their orchestras and actually SHOW UP FOR WORK???

Since that seems to be exactly the case, the NAC DESERVES whatever Zukerman brings them.

June 6, 2006 at 05:43 PM · I was not meaning to be subtle, I was meaning to be diplomatic. We all know that the only people that know the true story are the musicians and Mr. Zukerman. They probably don't even have all of the facts. I am completely abhorred by Mr. Zukerman's actions, as is my good friend from Ottawa. She has been in contact with many of the musicians and many of them admit that there's bad blood on both sides. I think that Mr. Zukerman should start being more professional, but I'm not simply going to bash him on this website without full knowledge. It's hard to get anything but the extremes when you live 800 miles away.

By the way, does anyone know how long his contract runs through?

June 6, 2006 at 06:23 PM · I still cannot see what he said that was so bad. He's given honest assessments of certain players in orchestras, many of whom, have tried and failed at solo careers and have ended up in orchestras. Zukerman even went on to say their jobs should not be something these orchestral musicians should view as a last resort, and not treat their jobs as a chore. I think Zukerman wants his players to be artistic ambassadors rather than just faking for the benefits and pay checks. He's not happy with the Concertmaster for a good reason, I've heard him play, and he isn't very good.

If a ball player performed the way this guy does on the field, he’d be off the team very quickly. One thing I think is a huge problem with orchestras and academia at large is tenure. Tenure can be good if it is not abused to a certain extent, but more often than not, the level of performance drops with people with tenured track jobs, due to the cushion tenure it gives.

Zukerman is the boss, if the Concertmaster has a problem with him he should go find another job. The one issue I might have if I were a Canadian citizen is, whether or not he and his wife are getting paid during their sick leave (vacation), cause after all the orchestra is if I’m not mistaken funded by tax-paying citizens. Wouldn’t we all like to get paid for taking a sick leave from one job and going to do another at the same time while getting paid to do that? Yes, but that is not how the world functions.

June 6, 2006 at 07:50 PM · Must... Not... Comment...

June 6, 2006 at 08:35 PM · wow Keith...

this thread is turning into a hip hop diss record...

June 6, 2006 at 09:04 PM · Pieter, talking about musicians that get lazy with tenure is a diss? It's a very common reality.

June 6, 2006 at 09:11 PM ·

June 6, 2006 at 10:29 PM · At least that concertmaster guy SHOWS UP TO WORK.

Personally, I'd rather have a guy screw up totally on stage than not show up at all the way Zukerman and his wife are doing. Besides, there's more to being a concertmaster than just playing ability. One has to have great people skills, be totally professional all the time, and represent the orchestra with class and dignity. It's always better for a professional orchestra to have a lesser skilled concertmaster who has great personal class than a fabulous player or conductor who beats up his colleagues and doesn't show up for work.

I'll bet that if I listened to either of the two NAC concertmasters play especially when seated next to them at a music stand, I'd come away a lot more impressed with them than I would with Pinchas Zukerman's playing. That's not saying that Pinchas Zukerman doesn't play well, that's just saying that concertmasters are concertmasters usually because they're GOOD. The nature of their job dictates that they must have great skill and acceptance from their colleagues in the orchestra. The choice of concertmaster is what the orchestra is currently battling Zukerman on, remember?

Lazy tenure? Concertmasters in particular work harder than orchestral players. They set the bowings, communicate with the conductor, represent the orchestra in public functions, and do all sorts of stuff that section violinists are not expected to do. They get paid more than section violinists because they DO MORE. The on-stage portion of concertmastering is but a tiny fraction of what the job entails. Just because a concertmaster isn't playing to somebody's liking on stage doesn't mean that he's less deserving of tenure especially if he's doing all the other stuff he was hired to do. Besides, who's to say that these concertmasters can't play well? Zukerman doesn't like them, but the orchestra does. Who's right, an entire symphony of top tier experienced professional orchestra players or a single part-time conductor who doesn't even show up to his own gigs?

It comes down to this: If you're hired for a job, fulfill the terms of the agreement and try not to create havoc for your colleagues. That's true at any level of professional music.

June 7, 2006 at 12:06 AM · First off Kevin, I don't think your statements make any sense. Playing well DOES go along with being a professional. Otherwise any good "people's person" could be a Concertmaster of the LA Phil according to your idea. A paying audience does not pay to see a concert played by people with merely social graces. People pay to hear good music, they don’t pay to see someone smile. You stated, “At least that concertmaster guy SHOWS UP TO WORK.” That is not a virtue. Would you rather have a surgeon that just rolled out of bed and shows up to work with a big smile or a surgeon that gets the job done? Class and dignity in an orchestra should be about getting the job done and respecting one’s colleagues by doing the job from a playing standpoint. People should get paid on the basis of how they perform. In orchestras once you pass that probationary 2 or 3 years you have tenure, and you don’t have to perform if you don’t want to. That is why there is a lot of “dead wood“ in these orchestras, mostly due to the union protective bubble around a lot of these mediocrities.

June 7, 2006 at 12:39 AM · How in the world could "showing up to work" NOT be a virtue???

Surgery is NOT the same as music when it comes to absolute performance, especially since I've been to medical school and have been involved in both medical and musical procedures at the professional level. There's not much leeway in surgery, but there's all sorts of leeway in music.

Tenure doesn't save anybody in pro music. If you can't or won't perform, people are going to give you a hard time. Look at Zukerman - he's bailed out on his gig and now he's getting roasted by everybody. One still has to PERFORM in music to maintain audience and colleague respect, no matter how comfortable a tenure track is.

The NAC appointed the two concertmasters BEFORE Zukerman arrived. Those two players have been there for quite some time and have performed up to the expectations of the orchestra for years. Here's how it works in pro music, Keith: a concertmaster is the face of the orchestra and thus he must be accepted by both management and peers in the orchestra. If he doesn't measure up from a skill and character standpoint, he'll be ridiculed by his peers even if he's the conductor's pet. Instead, we have the entire NAC orchestra rushing to the defense of these two concertmasters. If these players were so awful, the NAC players would not bother standing up to their esteemed conductor. These players are jeopardizing their own jobs to stand up to Zukerman to protect their esteemed colleagues. Professional musicians don't put their own jobs on the line to support colleagues who can't play well.

Once again, just because YOU don't think these guys can play doesn't mean that other players or even the audiences agree with you. Farewell concerts are not thrown for SCRUBS at any level of professional music, let alone a big orchestra like the NAC. You've gotta be a fine player to deserve such a kudo.

Besides Keith, could YOU beat these guys out in an audition if they're such lousy players?

June 7, 2006 at 01:16 AM · My playing has nothing pertinent to this discussion and makes no sense to even bring it up. It is not a virtue to show up to work, it is expected! It is nothing special, it is just common sense when one is getting paid 6-figures. My medical analogy with surgery and musical performance I think was appropriate and very valid. Performing as a concertmaster should not be any different than that of a surgeon; both need to get the job done and that means performing under pressure!

“Roasted”? He is going on his vacation isn’t he not? He is coming back to a job he won’t lose, paid by Canadian tax-payers is he not? I am sure he is terribly concerned!

No, now Kevin here’s how it really works. You are so worried if the concertmaster measures up to his fellow peers and his conductor. What he should be measuring up to, more importantly, is the standards of the paying customers and the competitive field itself. These tenured players are not risking anything going up against Mr. Zukerman. What is Zukerman going to do fire the whole orchestra? It is not like these members are taking an individual stance, they are forming a high school like clique.

June 7, 2006 at 01:54 AM · Odd.

You are telling me, a career professional who just came off a date with the Phoenix Symphony, how the pro world "really works?" If you were a pro yourself, I'd still not agree with anything you're saying because that's not how it is in MY pro world.

Not only that, but how many years have you spent in medical school or as a practicing physician? What makes YOUR opinion more "appropriate and valid" than mine, especially since I've DONE both medicine and pro music? Have you done both medicine and pro music yourself, Keith?

This "high school like clique" is a coherent organization of professional musicians who's standing up for their own on the basis of playing ability. If audiences didn't like the concertmaster, they'd complain to the orchestra. And of course, there would be no farewell concerts. While you're at it, why don't you call up the NAC and voice your complaints? Maybe you'll make things better.

YOUR playing factors very much into this because you're the one calling these big-time professionals "lousy". If you're going to call somebody "lousy" in the pro world, you'd better be able to play better than these guys at least in your own mind. Or is your own playing "lousy" according to the standards you hold these professionals to?

Conductors DO fire whoever they want. I know a few people on tenured orchestral tracks who've been forced out of their positions. Zukerman is giving a hard time to whoever challenges him, as can be seen with the cello example. If you were actually in a pro orchestra, you'd understand that nobody can really rest on his laurels for long. The pressure to perform well is too intense. Anybody who plays in a professional orchestra will tell you that you can't just go and screw everything up just because you're on tenure.

Zukerman may be getting paid, but his rep is taking a major hit. People are bucking him and his life isn't all that easy. If he's not concerned, he OUGHT TO BE. Bad public relations are the death knell for professional musicians at any level.

One day Keith, you might become a professional violinist. When you achieve that, you'll find yourself in the hot seat with your own playing picked apart by a little Keith Hernandez-like hypercritical violin student who thinks you can't do anything right.

June 7, 2006 at 02:08 AM · Keith,

If a conductor wants you out, he will find a way to make it happen, tenured or not.

June 7, 2006 at 06:37 AM · I think Zukerman's comments about orchestral musicians are probably more a reflection of his own view than the majority of orchestral musicians. Big stars tend to have big egos. I'm not quite sure which precedes which more regularly, but I suspect it starts with the ego. When Zukerman says orchestral musicians would rather be soloists, he is probably talking about himself, but his perspective prevents him from seeing that others might have a different outlook.

He was touted as a great talent from a very young age, so he had very high expectations for the career path he wanted to follow, that being a soloist. Anything less would probably have been considered failure. Had Stern not engineered his joint victory of the Leventritt or had his talent not come to fruition, limiting his choices to orchestral work, I suspect he would be a very unhappy and frustrated individual. He is probably projecting what would be true for him onto others. The only thing is, not everyone has the ego or the talent of a Zukerman, and therefore set rather less lofty goals that their talent will allow. No doubt there are many talented and fulfilled orchestral musicians that fit this description. Zukerman probably struggles to see this, because of who he is. You could argue it's not his fault. After all, we are all limited by our perspective. But probably not.

June 7, 2006 at 08:31 AM · There's a lot of vitriolic sentiment for Mr. Z here, and most people are operating on 3rd hand information and press releases... things can be misquoted, and like the above poster said, his comments could be from his perspective, or perhaps his experience with some of the members of that orchestra are that they are indeed disgrunteled "failed" soloists. It's not that I'm trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I'd be willing to be that none of you have ever spoken more than a full sentence to this guy, yet he's being totally eviscerated here without any chance to defend himself.

June 7, 2006 at 02:04 PM · True.

Zukerman's actions I may not agree with, but I would love to hear his side of the story. Given that everybody I know who's dealt with him seems to be saying the kinds of the things the NAC players are complaining about, I'll keep my mind open to whatever possibilities exist.

That said, just because he's "Zukerman" does not exempt him or anybody else from standard professional conduct.

Besides, this man has been around top level orchestral musicians for ALL HIS LIFE and thus should know better than to cast negative aspersions on "most" of the orchestral field. My limited experience in the orchestral field has revealed to me that "most" orchestral players wouldn't even WANT a solo career if it were offered to them. They are there because they love orchestra even though they have the skill to be doing all sorts of other things.

June 7, 2006 at 02:13 PM · Aside from Mr Z's personality differences I find it rather amusing --NOT--that a musician of modest musical imagination has been making his way as a conductor. I said musical not instrumental lest I be misinterpreted. Great instrumental facility does not justify a conducting career in and of itself.

June 7, 2006 at 03:23 PM · Hi,

Although I should in no way for many reasons be responding to this thread I will.

Mr. Zukerman is making a distinction between two types of musicians. The first, is that failing to acheive a solo career, some violinists (sometimes major competition winners) choose an orchestral career as a job because their solo ambitions were not fulfilled. He also points out musicians who have gone to orchestral playing as a vocation, not for lack of acheiving a solo career, but because they are dedicated to orchestral music and playing. Perhaps he finds that more violinists belong to the first rather the the second, more ideal category.

The issue at stake with the NAC is that many of the players there have made orchestral playing their vocation, and find offense at such a comment, because orchestral playing is their calling, not just a job. They are dedicated musicians to their profession and calling.

It is not a question of right or wrong but one of perception at Mr. Zukerman's statement. I will not comment on the validity or the acceptability of such a statement. I think that everyone is entitled to make up their minds.

I hope that this clarifies the situation somewhat...


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